Interim report on injustices against South Asian Canadians asks Vancouver City to commit support in present projects before public apology for past

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By Surbhi Gogia

Various forms of discrimination and racism are deeply rooted in the history of Vancouver and other communities across Canada. As part of the City’s broader South Asian community redress work, in July 2019, Vancouver City Council put forward a motion to address historic discrimination against South Asian Canadian communities by directing its staff to work with community and develop a report with recommendations on how city can acknowledge and address racism against the South Asian community.

The city has now received an interim report called Historical Discrimination against People of South Asian Descent in Vancouver that was prepared in consultation with a Community Advisory Group consisting of 15 various well known South Asian community members.

A formal apology for the historical wrongdoings is always seen as one of the main steps towards redressing discrimination. The advisory group however has agreed that it is important for the City to show its commitment by making financial investments in current South Asian projects, hiring diverse staff and providing grants to organizations before making any formal public apology for the historical wrongdoings.

Dr Satwinder Bains, Director, South Asian Studies Institute at University of Fraser Valley, is part of the advisory group and has been a voice for the community for a long time. In an interview to LINK newspaper said, “Redressing what happened in past is a long journey. Apology is one way. But a formal apology is just a tip pf the iceberg. The apology needs to come with some sort of action by the City. For example, one important aspect is to invest in Punjabi market like the way city has done in Chinatown.”

Dave Mann, another member of the advisory group said, “An apology for the past is the right thing to do today but it should be understood by the present day politicians and the policymakers that they have a great responsibility to provide a ‘level playing field’. We are not asking any special treatment, just a level playing field.”

Dr Bains is of the view that supporting heritage projects and educating public in the contributions of South Asian in Vancouver is important. “It is not reflected in various places. For example, not many people know that South Asian communities first settlement was in Kitsilano but it does not reflect anywhere. May be naming a park and putting a storyline in that park can help.”

Heritage, culture, history, language etc., are mainstays in all our communities and the benefits of doing community placed work by preserving tangible and intangible heritage is critical for us. A sense of belonging can only be harnessed and appreciated when spaces can be claimed as collective responses to that sense in a way that is inclusive, diverse and equitable, she added.

Baltej Singh Dhillon, another member of advisory group too added, “In order to recompense for this loss and afford the community an opportunity to recover these lost treasures, support for South Asian arts, heritage and language projects in the City of Vancouver, will bring far greater value than any empty apology or recognition of wrongs done to the SA community,” said

The report mentions areas of interest identified by the advisory group in terms of economic development, human resources, outreach and policing.

When it comes to economic development, the report mentions need for investment in cultural food protection, increasing availability and supporting existing struggling South Asian Canadian grocery stores, markets, and food programs and capital investments in youth development and international student support initiatives.

The report mentions that efforts in the field of South Asian human resource development are also required by review of Human Resources policies including recruitment, hiring, promotion and training at the City to increase South Asian Canadian and all IBPOC communities representation in staff and leadership roles at the City.

The report also focuses on the importance of including South Asian people from various countries not just focusing on one specific region of the continent. Rizwaan S. Abbas while expressing his gratitude for including him in the community, said, “I welcome the opportunity to sit on the Advisory Board in order to offer a voice not only for my Indo-Fijian community but also for to the other Indian diasporic communities which often get lost within the larger South Asian population of the Lower Mainland.” The areas of interest above are broad and so will require further scoping and prioritization over the next phase of work as well as consideration in light of feedback received through broader community engagement. Feedback from community, such as recommendations regarding policing, are often outside of the jurisdiction of the City. However the City does assist communities by sharing their feedback with the institutions responsible